Inter-faith letter to the Government

Rt Hon Boris Johnson, PC, MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 0AA

Copy:
Rt Hon Robert Jenrick, MP, Secretary of State for Communities and
Local Government
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, Minister of State

Dear Prime Minister

We write as leaders of faith communities represented on the government Places of Worship Taskforce to raise our profound concerns at the forthcoming restriction measures to be introduced in England on Thursday 5th November 2020.

Since the Covid-19 virus first emerged, faith communities across the country have been acutely aware of the tragic consequences for people everywhere and of the intractable dilemmas which the government has had to negotiate. Our thoughts and prayers have been with the Cabinet, Parliament and all who advise them, and above all with those who have died or are bereaved, unemployed or unbearably stressed by the virus and its consequences.

Public Worship is covid-19 secure

In the last six months we have collaborated closely with Ministers and officials to keep people safe. We worked together to establish two principles of co-operation:

  1. Ensuring a balance between the government providing health and safety requirements, and faith communities subsequently determining theological aspects of what forms of worship/activity could be accommodated within this. Many of us have gone above and beyond the former and safely implemented the latter. In this way, the fine and desired balance has been maintained.
  2. The importance of proceeding on the basis of good quality scientific and medical evidence, but also that the language of the guidance was both specific enough to ensure safety, but non-specific enough to allow accommodation of different faiths without implicit bias towards one group or another.

We have demonstrated, by our action, that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission. Given the significant work we have already done, we consider there to be, now, no scientific justification for the wholesale suspension of public worship.

We understand entirely that the country faces significant challenges and the reasons behind the Government’s decision to bring in new measures. But we strongly disagree with the decision to suspend public worship during this time. We have had reaffirmed, through the bitter experience of the last six months, the critical role that faith plays in moments of tremendous crisis, and we believe public worship is essential. We set out below why we believe it is essential, and we ask you to allow public worship, when fully compliant with the existing covid-19 secure guidance, to continue.

Public Worship is Essential to sustain our service

Faith communities have been central to the pandemic response, and we will continue to be so.

During the first period of restrictions, we ceased public worship in our buildings. We moved much online, and we have provided significant resource to support our communities and our nation, from practical support such as foodbanks and volunteering, to promoting social cohesion, mental health and coping during these months. But common worship is constitutive of our identity, and essential for our self-understanding. Without the worshipping community, our social action and support cannot be energised and sustained indefinitely. Our commitment to care for others comes directly from our faith, which must be sustained and strengthened by our meeting together in common worship. Worshipping together is core to our identity and an essential aspect of sustaining our mission and our activity.

Common worship is also necessary to sustain the health and wellbeing of faith community members engaged in caring for others whether paid or voluntary. Much has been made of the adverse impact on mental health of volunteer and paid carers during this pandemic. Common Worship is an important way of sustaining the wellbeing, and ability to serve, of people of faith who volunteer. The benefits of public worship are scientifically well attested. For this reason alone, given the size and duration of the contribution of faith communities to the pandemic response, and the importance of sustaining their commitment and wellbeing, public worship is essential, should be classed by government as necessary and supported to continue. It enables and sustains people of faith in contributing to the service and health of our nation.

Public Worship is necessary for social cohesion and
connectedness

Increasing social scientific evidence makes clear that social connectedness, solidarity and social cohesion are key to both enabling people to stay resilient throughout restrictions due to covid-19 and central to compliance with the behaviours we need them to adopt to reduce transmission. This has been attested to in papers from Government’s own Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies. We also know that faith communities are creators of such connectedness and cohesion and their public presence and witness helps engender this. Given the importance of solidarity and connectedness, and the importance of public presence, we believe public worship should be classed as essential, and supported to continue.

Public Worship is important for the Mental Health of our
nation

The health benefits of attending worship are well known, and the burden of psychological and physical ill-health from isolation and during the pandemic are increasingly well understood. This is especially so for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic people. Public Health England’s own review found that faith communities were an important connect for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic people during this period.

Moreover, it is a well-known and well-studied phenomenon that people turn to faith communities as a way of coping with trauma and grief. This is the common experience of faith communities in England during COVID and especially since communal worship restarted. People are turning to faith communities, not just in our social care services but during public worship, as a way of coping with their sense of trauma, grief and loss. The public mental health impact of this has been significant, and it provides an important way of supporting the nation without overburdening NHS and other mental health services. Public Worship provides an important sign that faith communities are there for people. We believe this must be regarded by government as essential.

Public Worship is an essential sign of hope

The psychological impact of uncertainty, restriction and the impact of the infection is increasingly well studied. We know that people seek signs of normality to help them make sense of restrictions and major change and disruption to their lives. We also know that where people see others act with hope and purpose that we will recover from disasters and traumas; this gives them hope and encouragement too. From a social psychological perspective, faith communities who consistently embody behaviours and attitudes that are covid-19 safe and hopeful provide encouragement to others through modelling these behaviours and attitudes. They are part of the journey to recovery. Public worship is therefore an essential sign that we can find new ways of living with Covid-19 until the vaccine is found, and part of the psychological and social cohesion needed to exit restriction measures. Public worship should therefore be supported to continue.

We have already said there is no scientific rationale for suspension of Public Worship where it is compliant with the guidance that we have worked jointly with government to establish. We believe government, and Public Health England, accept this.

Government is making decisions about what aspects of our life during this period of restrictions are essential. We believe we have demonstrated that continuation of public worship is essential, for all the reasons we have set out above.

We call on government to recognise and support this, and enable us to continue to worship safely, as part of the essential fabric of the nation.

Yours sincerely
+Vincent Cardinal Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

+Justin Cantuar
The Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

+Stephen Ebor
The Most Revd & Rt Hon Stephen Cottrell Archbishop of York

+Sarah Londin
The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Sarah Mullally Bishop of London with the support of the members of the House of Bishops of the Church of England

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

Gurmail Singh Malhi
President Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall

Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf
Chair: The British Board of Scholars and Imams

Sayed Yousif Al-Khoei
Al-Khoei Foundation

Agu Irukwu
Senior Pastor, Jesus House for all Nations

Rajnish Kashyap MCICM
General Secretary/Director
Hindu Council UK (HCUK)

Daniel Singleton
National Executive Director, Faith Action

Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 8 September

The Birth of the Virgin – Giotto

The birth of Mary is not recorded in the Bible, but apocryphal sources (and tradition) say that her parents were St Joachim and St Anne. 8 September is the date of the commemoration in many Christian denominations, including the Church of England. This date is 9 months after 8 December, the date commemorated as the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (In the Church of England this date is in the lectionary as a “lesser festival”. In the Roman Catholic church it is known as the Immaculate Conception, but this doctrine is not accepted in Protestant churches, nor in the Orthodox church.)

Shall we not love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well?
And to His glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honour tell?
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Bound with the curse of sin and shame
We helpless sinners lay,
Until in tender love He came
To bear the curse away.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

And thee He chose from whom to take
True flesh His Flesh to be;
In it to suffer for our sake,
By it to make us free.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Thy Babe He lay upon thy breast,
To thee He cried for food:
Thy gentle nursing soothed to rest
Th’ Incarnate Son of God.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

O wondrous depth of Grace Divine
That He should bend so low!
And Mary, O, what joy ’twas thine
In His dear love to know.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Joy to be Mother of the Lord,
And thine the truer bliss,
In every thought, and deed, and word,
To be for ever His.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

And as He loves thee, Mother dear,
We too will love thee well;
And to His glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honour tell.
Yes, we will love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well.

Jesu, the Virgin’s Holy Son,
We praise Thee and adore,
Who art with God the Father One,
And Spirit evermore.
Jesu, the Virgin’s Holy Son,
We praise Thee and adore.

The Blessed Virgin Mary: 15 August

In the Roman Catholic Church, 15 August is a holy day of obligation: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven. The “the bodily taking up of Mary, the mother of Jesus, into Heaven at the end of her earthly life” was declared as dogma in the RC Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950. But as this picture was painted by Titian about 1517, this had obviously been part of the belief and culture of many Christians for centuries.

Most Protestants see no biblical basis to justify belief in the Assumption of Mary. In the Church of England, 15 August is a “non-specific feast” of The Blessed Virgin Mary.

The words to Ye who own the faith of Jesus were written by Revd Vincent Stuckey Stratton Coles (1845–1929). He was Principal of Pusey House, Oxford from 1897 to 1909, and Warden of the Sisterhood of the Epiphany in Truro from 1910 to 1920. He also wrote the hymn We pray Thee, Heavenly Father.

Ye who own the faith of Jesus
sing the wonders that were done,
when the love of God the Father
o’er our sin the victory won,
when he made the Virgin Mary
Mother of his only Son.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Blessèd were the chosen people
out of whom the Lord did come,
blessèd was the land of promise
fashioned for his earthly home;
but more blessèd far the Mother
she who bare him in her womb.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Wherefore let all faithful people
tell the honour of her name,
let the church in her foreshadowed
part in her thanksgiving claim;
what Christ’s Mother sang in gladness
let Christ’s people sing the same.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Let us weave our supplications,
she with us and we with her,
for the advancement of the faithful,
for each faithful worshipper,
for the doubting, for the sinful,
for each heedless wanderer.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Praise, O Mary, praise the Father,
praise thy Saviour and thy Son,
praise the everlasting Spirit,
who hath made thee ark and throne;
o’er all creatures high exalted,
lowly praise the Three in One.
Hail Mary, hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace.

Saint Oswald’s Day

The hymn In our day of thanksgiving is often sung on the occasion of a Patronal Festival.

It is also appropriate to be sung “in remembrance of past worshippers”.

The hymn was written by Revd William Henry Draper (1855-1933). He wrote a number of hymns, the best-known being All creatures of our God and King (an English translation of words from St Francis of Assisi). He served as curate and vicar at churches in Shrewsbury among other posts. He married three times; as well as being widowed twice, three of his sons died in WW1.

IN our day of thanksgiving one psalm let us offer
For the saints who before us have found their reward;
When the shadow of death fell upon them, we sorrowed,
But now we rejoice that they rest in the Lord.

In the morning of life, and at noon, and at even,
He called them away from our worship below;
But not till his love, at the font and the altar,
Had girt them with grace for the way they should go.

These stones that have echoed their praises are holy,
And dear is the ground where their feet have once trod;
Yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims,
And still they were seeking the city of God.

Sing praise then, for all who here sought and here found him,
Whose journey is ended, whose perils are past:
They believed in the Light; and its glory is round them,
Where the clouds of earth’s sorrow are lifted at last.

Oswald was born into the Northumbrian Royal Family in 604, the son of Ethelfrith. When in 616 his uncle Edwin killed the king, the 12-year old Oswald fled to Scotand with his brothers and sister, and at St. Columba’s great Celtic monastery of Iona was converted to Christianity.

After the death of Edwin in 633 Oswald returned to Northumbria and was crowned king. The following year he fought and killed Cadwalla, king of the Welsh in the battle of Heavenfield, near Hexham. Oswald had a vision of Columba the night before the battle, in which he was told “Be strong and act manfully. Behold, I will be with thee. This coming night go out from your camp into battle, for the Lord has granted me that at this time your foes shall be put to flight and Cadwallon your enemy shall be delivered into your hands and you shall return victorious after battle and reign happily.”

Oswald later extended his kingdom southward and westward and invited St. Aidan to come from Iona to spread Christianity in this pagan area.

A monastery was founded in Lindisfarne which became a base for the missionary journeys of King and Bishop throughout the kingdom. Churches were built e.g. the foundation of the later York Minster; mission cells spread the Celtic traditions of St. Columba across northern England. Many villagers were converted, youths educated in monastic centres, the poor shepherds and cowherds gathered to hear the word of God, the sick were healed and the destitute fed and clothed.

Throughout his eight-year rule Oswald established law and order, and fought physically and spiritually to benefit his people In 642 he led his forces against King Penda of Mercia at the battle of Maserfeld* where he was killed and his body dismembered. His followers recovered his head and his brother, Oswy, sent the holy relics to Lindisfarne where it became an object of veneration during the life of St. Cuthbert.

Reginald of Durham recounts a miracle, saying that Oswald’s right arm was taken by a raven to an ash tree, which gave the tree ageless vigour; when the bird dropped the arm onto the ground, a spring emerged from the ground. Both the tree and the spring were, according to Reginald, subsequently associated with healing miracles. The raven is shown in the icon.

Oswald was canonised in 692 and his feast is kept on 5th August. During the Viking raids in 875 the monks fled from Lindisfarne and carried their relics with them, including the body of St. Cuthbert, the head of St. Oswald and the Lindisfarne Gospels through many flights and wanderings over many decades. Eventually, after nearly 200 years the relics were interred in Durham Cathedral.

*The site of the battle of Maserfeld is traditionally identified with Oswestry in Shropshire; arguments have been made for and against the accuracy of this identification.

  • Helen Buchanan on Saint Oswald’s DayThis is not a hymn I am familiar with but it is very melodic and tuneful so its “yes” from...
  • Veronica on Saint Oswald’s DayAnother lovely hymn for my funeral! 🙂

Family Worship 5 July 2020

Our home-made Family Worship service. Thanks very much to Bev, Toby, Nick & Hannah, Amy & Matthew and the various camera crews across Bollington for helping with our service today 🙂 The opening scene of this video shows a snapshot from Christmas in church!?! We hope it’s not that long before we can gather together in person again for worship! We look forward to re-opening the church building hopefully in the Autumn, after successful completion of our ongoing kitchen development project, but meanwhile stay safe and keep well 🙂 Veronica